Audience Development

Getting people from very different social backgrounds involved in the arts

2. Cultural participation as a goal of cultural policy

Cultural policy in favour of the audience – the UK model

At the other extreme in terms of the meaning of the arts within society and the efforts in favour of the audience is the UK. There, the arts are considered less as a value in themselves, like in Germany, but as an important contributor to the development of society and as a key economic factor. “We believe that the arts have the power to transform lives and communities, and to create opportunities for people throughout the country. We will argue that being involved with the arts can have a lasting effect on many aspects of people’s lives. This is not just true for individuals, but also for neighbourhoods, communities, regions and entire generations, whose sense of identity and purpose can be changed through art” (

The UK Department for Culture, Media and Sports set the official goal to “broaden access for all to a rich and varied cultural life”, to “develop the educational potential of the nation’s cultural resources, raise standards of cultural education and training”, to “ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop talent in the area of culture”, and to “promote the role of culture in combating social exclusion” (Council of Europe 2002)star (* 5 ).

Money is only given to those arts institutions that have proven efforts in developing audiences. In contrast to Germany, policymakers in countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden have shifted the focus from funding arts production to funding arts participation.


3. Audience Development programmes in the UK

The UK was the first country in Europe to set up a national programme for audience development. It was set up by the Arts Council as a five-year programme of action research from 1998 to 2003, with the goal of encouraging as many people as possible from all backgrounds to participate in and benefit from the arts. The Arts Council invested £20 million in the programme, which sought both to reach more people and to develop an audience that is more representative of society as a whole. Arts and cultural institutions could apply with innovative best-practise models for reaching new audiences for their institution. The groups that were selected received money from the Arts Council to develop, implement and evaluate their projects.

The main target groups of the audience development programme were general audiences, young people, families, ethnic minorities (diversity), socially deprived groups (inclusion), rural populations, and older people. Some examples of selected programmes include:

  • Collaborations with popular TV channels, which were most successful in reaching general audiences
  • The first “Bollywood” drive-in cinema, initiated by the British film institute for migrant families from South Asia
  • Young people were reached through SMS text messaging and arts institutions went into night clubs
  • Some of the chosen projects experimented with new times and places, like theatre events at lunch time, poems on the underground
  • Creative writing projects took place in hospitals, and classical concerts in job centres; artists worked with people in rural areas and produced a film with them

One of the main findings of the programme was that it is possible to reach all kinds of people for the arts if you find the right ways of presenting the arts and approaching people: “We believe not in changing audience behaviour but much more in challenging and changing the way art is developed, presented and funded” (Von Harrach, Viola in: Mandel, Kulturvermittlung. Zwischen kultureller Bildung und Kulturmarketing, Bielefeld 2005). The other main finding is that acting in sync with the needs of an audience does not mean a decline in artistic quality, as is often feared by artists in countries like Germany. “One of the most compelling conclusions of the programme is that organisations that understand, trust and value their audiences are more likely to produce powerful art and therefore more likely to thrive” (Peter Hewitt, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, in: New Audiences for the Arts, London 2004).


Mandel, Birgit/Institut für Kulturpolitik (2005): Einstellungen zu Kunst und Kultur, Kulturimage und
Kulturbegriff. Ergebnisse einer Bevölkerungsumfrage in Hildesheim, durchgeführt
von Studierenden des Studiengangs Kulturwissenschaften und ästhetische Praxis
der Universität Hildesheim,


Bourdieu, Pierre (1970): Zur Soziologie der symbolischen Formen. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.


Mandel, Birgit/Renz, Thomas (2010): Barrieren der Nutzung kultureller Einrichtungen. Eine qualitative Annäherung an Nicht-Besucher. Institut für Kulturpolitik, Universität Hildesheim,


Hoffmann, Hilmar (1979): Kultur für alle. Perspektiven und Modelle, Frankfurt/Main


cf. Council of Europe (eds.) (2002): Cultural Policies in Europe. UK

Birgit Mandel (2013): Audience Development. Getting people from very different social backgrounds involved in the arts. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten #03 ,